Category Archives: Gardening

Turkey in the Yard

The turkey that has been traveling from yard to yard has been making the news in the neighborhood. She takes dust baths in a spot just off of the sidewalk in our backyard, making a rather large indentation that I had first blamed on the squirrels. On Monday, I heard two hounds (thankfully on leashes) make a ruckus. When I looked out the porch window, I saw the hen booking it down the street. Nevertheless, she has since returned for her bath, a snack from Maryann’s raised garden (naughty bird!) and a drink from the various birdbath’s that dot the lawns. I am grateful for the uplifting entertainment. In addition to the wild turkey watch, I’ve been taking pictures for my amusement. Just yesterday at dusk and with rain threatening, the tulips in the boulevard caught my attention. I’m also working on the next QuOTeD Podcast episode. I am hoping that all of the parts will click into place next week, but that can be a somewhat unpredictable thing. It started out being about apologies, but I think it is ultimately taking me elsewhere.

Hyacinth
Plum tree
Spent wild sunflowers with tulips and hyacinth in the background.
Tulips on Roblyn Avenue.
Tulips
Red tulips
Turkey taking a dust bath.
Turkey in the backyard
Last year’s chives with a turkey in the background
Dried sedum from last year

Starting Seedlings Late

For the second time since the world changed, on Tuesday my neighbors gathered in a big circle where households stood at least six feet apart.

That’s Brian by the tree with his U of M lunchbox. He came home from work to a party in the street.

That’s when I learned that Ralph who lives three doors down from us had just planted a few seedlings the previous day. I think of Ralph as someone who knows what he’s doing because he has made his own wine from the grapes in his yard, he can tap a maple tree and he has an impressive vermiculuture system in his basement that makes my worm buckets look like Legos compared to the real estate he manages. So when he mentioned that he had just started a few tomato seeds, it eased my mind. It’s true that I planted my seedlings late compared to what I might have normally done, but maybe it’s not the end of the world? Ralph laughed at the notion that I would see him as any kind of an authority on the subject. But that’s not the point.

Seedlings with plastic cover and blue and red spectrum light.

For five days I joked – No sprouts! – to which Brian would answer, It might take a while. And then just like that there was broccoli. This was quickly followed by zucchini that displaced a disk of potting soil before making its appearance amid a struggle to cast off its hull.

Broccoli according to the chart. Now that the picture is bigger, I can see that the plant could be in better focus as opposed to the water droplets.
In answer to my mother’s question: What is hope?

It was two Christmases ago when Brian’s sister gave me the seed growing kit that is producing these amazing results. It came with a tray in which to plant the seeds, a clear plastic cover with a “patented three-way vent” (i.e., a hole at the top of the cover plus three pieces of plastic that are sitting on the buffet), a heating pad and a blue and red spectrum light. But that following spring we produced a podcast series for the Minnesota Fringe Festival. The project soaked up every last drop of spare time and so I decided not to have a garden that year. I would use the kit another time.

Broccoli.

I am not exactly going “stir crazy”, a word a neighbor used as we waved from across the street where she was kicking a ball around the yard with her two young boys. I’m behind on reading. I am behind on phone calls. Housework. This is my life. It would be a good time to straighten up the garage, right? But, in some ways nothing has changed. I’m working on the next episode of the QuOTeD podcast, while thinking that I should be vacuuming instead.

I don’t need more things to do.

And yet I might actually break out the puzzle that has never been opened.

And yet Brian and I just finished watching the entire three seasons of Slings & Arrows on the Acorn network that is free during the shelter-in-place/safer-at-home order.

And yet I have a mask sewing project on my dining room table.

And yet I was delighted to have this fancy kit with its light that cycles on and off automatically, delighted by making an afternoon of poking holes in the soil with a skewer and planting seeds that came with the kit and grateful to be free of deciding what to plant, delighted to mist them with water every day, delighted to finally report to Brian – We have sprouts! – and delighted to march him over to the window so that he can inspect the plants for himself, delighted by the involuntary sound we make – a sort of gasp – at the sight of something truly amazing.

Seedlings and last year’s geraniums by the window.

When we head out for the second walk for the day, we notice the soccer ball and Nerf darts from across the street are in the road on our side. Brian walks the ball back to its home, kicking it along, careful not to touch anything with his hands. The darts are trickier. I give him a stretchy glove from my pocket.

Don’t touch your face.

Don’t touch your face.

Brian wonders how seeds know when to sprout. Warmth! I say. Warmth and light. Plus the right conditions. Soil. Moisture. But who knows? Maybe the Earth’s magnetic fields have something to do with it. Maybe there are forces at work that are yet to be understood.

We once bought some plants from a guy who had this big greenhouse in his backyard. He told us to wait to plant the basil until the lilacs bloomed. That’s when you’ll know that it’s warm enough for basil. I like to imagine that plants might take similar cues. Maybe the lilacs are waiting for the tulips to make their appearance. And maybe the tulips came because a flock of geese told them that the rabbits needed something to eat. And maybe the stars told the geese that it was time to head for Canada.

Mainly, I’m just amazed that a beet knows that it’s a beet and not a turnip, for example. Chromosomes. DNA. Intelligence…

So far I’ve mismeasured my first four masks. I try to remember how my mother showed me how to straighten up the sides of a piece of fabric. I curse the rotary cutter. It is dull. I turn the blade around and it’s working better. I might be able to finish the project before I have to get a new blade at the fabric store – now declared essential – where I will pick up my purchases at the curb. Then I’ll bring them home, remove the packaging, wipe things off and let everything sit on the porch for a couple of days before bringing anything into the house. My dad told me that they are doing this with the mail, packages, groceries, etc. So, now we do it because my parents know what they are doing.

I know how to thread a sewing machine because I took a home-economics class in the seventh grade. I made four placemats and matching napkins for my mother. As part of a purge a while back, she returned the set to me. Brian was just using one of those napkins the other day at lunch… lunch together in the middle of the week at the house… I don’t think my sewing has improved much since learning a few basics when I was a kid. But I learned enough to attempt a mask with some confidence, measuring snafus notwithstanding.

My mother is the sewer, not me. Growing up there were Halloween costumes. There were Barbie doll clothes and felt Sesame Street puppets. These were sold at the church bazaar… at the rummage sale in my grandmother’s garage too? There were the pants that were outgrown and then extended with a ruffle at the ankle. There were plush dolls and Christmas decorations for the cousins. There were the red and black checkered seat covers for Ginger’s first car, a classic black Beetle that I loved. There were also two or three different prom dresses for my sister, a blue one, a creme-colored one with a pattern of flowers on puffy sleeves, a maroon dress? Or was that for the bridesmaids? For Tracy it was mainly clothes for work at the insurance company. Skirts and dresses. I can see her trying them on midstream so that my mom can check the sizing… the hem. Then sometime after retiring from the hospital – I think – my mom started making quilts in earnest.

Wedding quilts. Baby quilts. Lap quilts. Table coverings. Placemats.

We are back to placemats, only this time my mother is making them and giving them to me.

So, when I joined my parents to visit my sister Amy in Idaho, I brought along some old Crown Royal bags that Brian had collected over the years. For the next several weeks in Boise where time was slowed down by circumstances, my mom coached me through making a quilt with these old bags. It was going to be a Christmas gift for Brian. I would stay up late trying to cut fabric and sew pieces together that would pass my mother’s inspection… windmills where the points met perfectly in the middle. Of course, my mother did a lot of the sewing too – Most of it? – else it’s doubtful that there would have been anything to wrap.

There were tears. There was wine. Laughing. And lots of impressions of Tim Gunn from Project Runway.

“Quilters! You have five minutes!”

Quilters! Butt the seams!”

“Quilters! We are out of wine!”

That fall there was Scrabble, rummy, a Vegetarian Thanksgiving – Craig drove down for that – and the only season of Dancing with the Stars that I had ever watched.

It has been a while since my mother made a dress for anyone. And a sore leg that is aggravated by too much time at the machine has stalled her quilting projects. But she is sewing some masks to give to her daughter who lives down the street and to her son-in-law who has been doing the grocery shopping for everyone. Charles is basically a hero.

My mom is giving me sewing tips over the phone. She tells me to watch Jenny Doan’s video on how to make a face mask.

This in itself is a hopeful thing to me.

Doing what we can.

Helping as we can

Taking care of each other as we can.

In the meantime, we are told that the national stockpile of emergency supplies does not belong to The People.

Quilters! We are out of time.

Everything is Fine

Judging by the size of the elm tree that I tried to remove, it has been a year since I did any work in my backyard.

But we have winter in Minnesota. It couldn’t have been a year.

It has been too long.

My neglect is a critter’s paradise. Once I found a toad under the overgrown rhubarb. Ever since then, I take a more surgical approach to trimming it back. Who knows what’s under there taking cover in the shade in what might otherwise be an inhospitably hot patch of grass? There was also the time when Brian and I were sitting on the front stoop. We watched a robin collect worms near the hydrangea. She was feeding two fledglings – one hopping in and out from underneath the rhubarb, and the other hiding in the Joe-pye that is finally starting to show signs of flowering. A million birds. A million bees. They don’t seem to mind a few weeds. Chipmunks that sound like birds. Tiny bunnies. Squirrels. Plenty of those. They could not care less.

But of course there are the neighbors to consider.

When you put off weeding your garden for as long as I have – whatever the reasons might be – it can be a challenge to work up the courage to face it. For all I know a gaze of raccoons have set up shop in last year’s sunflower stalks that are leaning against the chain link fence next to the compost bin. In fact, here’s a picture of exactly what I fear. But once I’m out there, the task doesn’t seem so impossible. Big. But not impossible. I enjoy spotting the Queen Anne’s lace that’s trying to blend in with the raspberries. And it’s satisfying to catch a thistle before its seeds have spread. Sometimes the scariest looking weed doesn’t take much to remove. The ragweed that was as tall as me came up pretty easily. And while it was too late by the time I had read about the hazards of touching it, I haven’t suffered any rashes. I enjoy tidying up the place. Sometimes I like to pretend that I am a cow, but I’d be just as happy to be a goat. That way I feel less conflicted about deciding what is to stay and what is to go. The Department of Agriculture has a list of invasive plants and that should be enough. You’re out! On the other hand, I am an empath even when it comes to dandelions. Besides, it can be tricky to make the distinction between a beneficial thistle and a noxious plant.

A day in the garden should burn up one’s ration of decision-making power. But somehow it doesn’t.

Lately I’ve been reading about writing, which can be a sort of procrastination technique if you’re not careful. But I have found it to be useful. I’ve seen several references to the idea that inspiration is something that comes once you start writing. It is not something that you need to write. I have found this to be true. Anyone who exercises knows this as well. You’re sunk if you wait to be in the mood to do it and you’ll feel great if you do it. Pulling weeds. Same thing.

But it can be hard to face these things after so much neglect.

In the case of my yard, there might be raccoons, right?

Instead, I found that the kale I planted when the garden seemed manageable earlier this year was ready to harvest. I had some for lunch. Chopped. Sauteed in a little olive oil and a sliced onion. You can add other veggies but simple is good. Drizzled with lemon juice. On rice. Topped with nuts. Walnuts are good. And raisins. Seriously good.

Instead, the weeds had time to work the soil that fell easily from their roots. Black. Crumbly. Moist. They were there because nothing else was. They were there because that’s what the soil conditions supported. They were there working, accessing nutrients that were unavailable to other plants. Pulling them up to the top. They were there to help in my absence and all I can say is “Thank you!”

Instead the compost has broken down. The bin that was filled over the wintertime is now just half full. Slide open the access door on the side of it and you will see that the worms have arrived.

Everything is fine.

No need to worry.

Get back to it.

Try again tomorrow.

Just do the next thing and see what inspiration has to say next.

Harvesting Butternut Squash in the Middle of the Night

We have a lot of squash to share.

We have a lot of squash to share.

Last Wednesday night I was in my voice class at the Guthrie Theater when the teacher mentioned that she had been working hard in her garden that day to get ahead of the hard frost expected that night. I couldn’t think about anything else after that. During a break I sent a frantic text to Brian, “Frost! Plants!”

Dreading a late night scramble to salvage what we could, I perked up when I remembered a stocking stuffer Santa had given me last year or the year before – a headlamp. Intended to help me with the ongoing painting projects around the house, the lamp would free up a hand otherwise needed for a flashlight. It would make it a lot easier to pick tomatoes and to find the butternut squash that had taken over the yard this summer.

Note to self: Headlamp definitely makes it on the list of essential household tools.

I’ve already used one of them for a very nice squash soup. Let me know if you would like to have some squash. We’re happy to share.

Actually… I’m sort of famous for growing gourds

I got my picture in the paper at Wurtsmith Air Force Base for growing these gourds.

I got my picture in the paper at Wurtsmith Air Force Base for growing these gourds.

Truthfully, I’m not sure why out of six kids I was the one who got credit for the gourds. I don’t remember planting them. This is something my parents must have noted. I was quoted as saying something about watering them every day. I do remember objecting to the outfit I am wearing in the picture. It was actually a very cute orange jump suit.

Someone from the paper noticed the gourds covered the front of the house and thought it would make a nice picture.

Someone from the paper noticed the gourds covered the front of the house and thought it would make a nice picture.